Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Value Consulting: “Work with Me, Don’t Tell Me What to Do”

March 22, 2011

Good leaders don’t hire consultants to tell them what to do.   And good consultants don’t tell people what to do.

The best consultants ask questions that help the leader see and prioritize issues, and incorporate the executive’s expertise and knowledge of their organization to develop solutions.  Leaders can include, but are certainly not limited to, CEOs, CFOs, Sales VPs, managers, and anyone leading a team from which revenue generation is demanded.

It’s a collaborative process, with the consultant and leader working as partners to address the company’s challenges.    To become a trusted advisor, consultants must demonstrate the value they can bring to solving a business need by raising concerns that will get to the heart of the matter.

I am always stunned and more than a bit perplexed by businessmen who, after 15 minutes of conversation ask, “So what do you think I should do to solve this problem?”    My response (after counting to 10 in my head) is to ask how they know this is the main problem?  Then I point out that while there are several possible solutions to the perceived challenge, as an astute executive he/she likely knows these obvious fixes already.

I proceed to ask 2-3 questions in addition to the one just posed to get them to think and demonstrate that not only do I refuse to take a cookie cutter approach (because it never works), but that I am interested in providing the right solution for specific needs.  My value comes in providing an outside perspective and asking tough questions to unearth the real issues holding a company back from its desired success.  Some sample questions that have worked to jumpstart the thinking process include:

  • What are the reasons you are focusing on this issue now?
  • What is the ideal outcome you would like to achieve?   How will you measure success?
  • How will these changes impact the bottom line?  Revenue?  Costs?

If, as a consultant, I tell you what to do, there’s no ownership, investment or collaboration.   The odds are that once I walk away, whatever advice I’ve shared, training I’ve done, sessions I’ve facilitated, will not be followed through.  And that’s where you are going to see the results that will grow your business.

If, however, I’ve worked with you and you’ve put your thought and brainpower into developing the solution(s), you feel a stronger connection and see the value.   You have engaged in a process of self-realization, recognizing what your company needs to succeed.   Follow through will be something you want to do—not just because someone told you.

Advertisements

Experts: Recognizing the Real McCoy

December 20, 2010

There are numerous so-called experts out there.  Ever wonder which ones are the real McCoys? 

Start by taking a look around at all the experts on social media, sales and networking.  Then ask yourself a few things.  Or better yet, ask them if you are considering developing a relationship:

  • What is your direct experience in helping clients grow their business as a result of your advice?  Ask them to quantify and qualify their response.
  • Who are some of your past and current clients?  What do you do for them?  May I speak to them and what would they say about you?
  • Where did you work before and learn and apply this knowledge/expertise?
  • How has your business grown and what revenue have you generated as a result of adhering to the advice you offer others?
  • Would you introduce me to some of your colleagues (and select which ones) so that I might bounce some ideas off of them and ask their advice?

Let me be clear.  I am not talking about LinkedIn connections of 500+ or the Top Linked, having Facebook fans/followers of 1000+.  Frankly, that’s not hard (nor is it often desirable).  Just ask any recruiter on LinkedIn.  Most have a huge number of connections.

For many of these self-anointed folks, the number of followers has seemingly given them an air of credibility.  And that’s my beef.  Often they can’t put any money where their mouth is. 

To be a true expert, you’ve got to do more than just market, point to the value of networking and use social media.  More than just blog, email, send newsletters about sales.  You need to demonstrate specifically how you’ve grown your business and helped others do the same.  And tell others how and by how much.

We can honestly say that our business has grown by x% as a result of certain strategies.  Tell you that we’ve led sessions to train and offer ongoing assistance to x individuals on the value of social media to grow business.  That we’ve worked at X corporations to gain expertise.  And that our network is tight and reliable—so much so that we’ve helped individuals and companies outside our project scope by introducing them to others that might provide valuable insight. 

That’s not to say there isn’t a role for people with intellectual or theoretical insights.  Nor is it fair to say that all those claiming to be experts are charlatans.  It’s just that you need to see if they have depth—of knowledge and experience–and have proven results. 

More than a handful of clients retaining us began by saying that XYZ Company(ies)—names you would recognize—gave them an assessment and analysis, but no actionable steps to rectify what was wrong with their sales operations or how they could create meaningful and fruitful business connections.

Within the last year, we’ve done extensive pro bono work for unemployed mid-and upper level professionals, leading sessions on using social media and networking.  On countless occasions, we’ve been approached by at least one or 2 persons saying, “Finally, advice that isn’t elementary or repetitive.”  Many companies offer basic social media training to laid off employees and/or these individuals have taken the time to learn some of this themselves.  What they seek is hands-on experiential advice and coaching.  They want more than the oft-quoted basics.  That, they say, separates us from the pack.

While we are flattered, it is a sad commentary on the information apparently available and provided by many.  Take an “expert” with a substantial following on Facebook and LinkedIn.  We asked to be introduced to a contact, to which they responded, “Oh, I don’t really know them,” prompting us to silently ask, “Why pretend to offer advice based on supposedly strong relationships?” 

We know why.  There is an assumption of thought leadership and expertise by having a large following, regardless of whether it is truly justified.

The point is this:  Beware of those self-appointed experts.  Many people seem to have the financial wherewithal and desire to teach and write about topics, but lack the real world experience and case histories to support their proclaimed expertise.  To many of them it’s theoretical.  They are not necessarily working day in and out to help companies grow.

Consider a business partner of ours, George Bradt.  He wrote 2 outstanding books on executive onboarding, with experience culled from working at companies such as Unilever, P&G, etc.  He can regale you with success stories since founding his own company.  When he talks, folks listen.  Why?  Because he’s been there, done that.  He can quantify and qualify his successes.

Who do you want giving you advice?  Someone who’s been in the trenches and can say from experience what works and what may prove to be challenging, or someone who blogs, posts, etc. on the topic, but hasn’t actually done it?  Someone whose network is a mile wide and an inch deep or someone with strong, meaningful connections?

I know who I choose to partner and work with on an ongoing basis at our company.  What about you? 

May your new year be full of real McCoys to help you prosper and grow.

Making It Personal: Connecting With the Top 10 Who’ve Got Your Back

December 2, 2010

Seth Godin.  Keith Ferrazzi.  Respected because the advice they provide is insightful, practical, and most importantly works.

I came across a blog from Seth from a little over a year ago and the commentary is as valuable today as it was upon first reading.  “First, ten” (http://bit.ly/bWCI) discusses a method of finding ten people you trust and presenting your product or service to them for feedback.  The idea is that you build credibility with the first 10, they spread the word, refer prospects, and your business grows.  This runs counter to what many companies do with big product launches, which Seth says market to anonymous masses and no longer work.

Keith Ferrazzi has a parallel concept.  Who’s Got Your Back (http://bit.ly/gMs9kA), one of my favorite books, also talks about connecting with those 10-50 people willing and desirous to help you succeed personally and professionally.  Reaching out to select key people is far more fruitful on every level to your long-term success.  Keith’s approach is highly personal, as he takes a holistic view of success.  Note that both Seth and Keith emphasize the personal connection.

That’s my latest peeve about all the talk about networking and social media.  Perhaps it’s because this is the time of year when one has the opportunity to connect on a personal, joyful level, yet many of us get so caught up and distracted that we miss the moment.

Social networking to 500+ people isn’t personal unless you make it personal.  Here’s where I see a strong convergence between Seth’s and Keith’s perspectives.  Find that group of 10-50 people and ask their feedback as you embark on the new year.  Don’t just post something on your Facebook or LinkedIn pages.  That’s passive.  Genuinely, personally and cheerfully reach out to those friends and colleagues to offer assistance, ask for respectful insights and feedback and extend greetings.

You may need to divide your contact sphere depending on your network size and focus.  The key though is personalizing your message to be sure the people you contact know you’ve got their backs as much as you hope they have yours.

Happy Holidays, and may you appreciate the joy of the season!

Top 10 Quick Hit List for Social Media

August 16, 2010

It’s a hot summer day, so perhaps I shouldn’t have gotten so distraught by some remarks from clients throughout the day about their challenges with social media.  What struck me was that most had forgotten some of what we consider the Top 10 things to do for success.  The list below is short and sweet, admittedly.  Just the right accompaniment for a tall cool glass of iced tea.

1.   Have a plan

You can’t know where you’ve been or where you’re heading without one. Be sure you evaluate social media plans in the context of all your business sales and marketing initiatives.

2.   Take baby steps –then EXCEL

There’s so much out there, so take one piece at a time and boldly go forth and do one part well before moving on to the next.

3.   Listen

It’s easy to jump in and start writing, but do you know what are others saying about you?  About your industry?  Trends?  Assess the community in which you want to reside.

4.   Clearly define your business objectives

 How can you justify an expense of time and energy if you don’t know how these tools can enhance your business?  Don’t try to do everything at once, but know what you want out of this tool.  Then see #1 and 2.

5.   Integrate online and offline initiatives

Mix the old with the new.  It’s the 1 + 1 = 3+ theory.  You will make a critical omission if you do not link your online social media presence directly to your website and other business plans.

6.    Test select tools and applications

Assess what works best for your business in terms of time and results.  Some online sites have more applications than others.  However, most can be integrated via links and bitty urls.  Explore the new world and see what riches it has in store.

7.   Participate and be consistent in your postings

Let people know you have an online presence and build your reputation by commenting and posting.  It is a bit like exercise though…you need to do it consistently.

8.    Evaluate your success

Measure what’s working.  You do this for every other company initiative and this should be no exception.  Why is one method or site working and another not?  This isn’t about ROI in the typical sense, but rather about building credibility and thought leadership.  What is the quality of your interactions and/or comments made by others?

9.   Adjust and adapt

Your first attempts in social media need to be examined and adjusted periodically.  Remember, this is not static, any more than other sales initiatives, so assess and change where and what is necessary.  Try and try again.

10.  Build on your initiatives

There’s no time to gloat or rest on your laurels.  After you master one aspect of your social media presence, add to it and be sure to integrate with your other sales initiatives.  Consider your website, professional and company profiles on LinkedIn, Facebook fan page (more appropriate for B2C), company blog, etc.  You’ve just started—keep up the good work.

Social Media Pet Peeves

July 20, 2010

As I review my social media sites, I’ve noticed patterns that strike me as counter-productive, or even harmful, in building relationships through social media that promote business growth.

If nothing else, I find many of these behaviors annoying.  We promote the use of social media to enhance relationships, help others achieve success and grow business.  To enable this, we endorse respect, transparency and open communication.

 So here are my top five pet peeves (at least for today):

  • List Builders

You know the kind.  They want a zillion followers, members, fans, connections, accept invitations from everyone and reach out to everyone.  What this tells me is that the connection is not terribly meaningful, the relationship not particularly strong, and you are almost literally,  just a number to them.  Some people who use social media for marketing, told me that they do this to get a greater audience for their product.  I challenge them by asking, ”How much of this has translated into sales?”  Usually, none of it.  This is marketing for marketing’s sake, which is all well and good as long as that is your end goal.  For our clients, it definitely is not.  They want revenue generation.

  • Closed Connections

I’m as competitive as the next person, but also believe that my clients are so satisfied with my work that they aren’t about to go elsewhere.  My connections are visible to all my contacts/friends.  I’ve heard people say they don’t want clients to see other clients, don’t want people harassing their connections, etc.  I want to help and hope that people ask me for introductions to my contacts if it will help them grow professionally.  Look, we’ve all been at different companies, worked with and for others.  It’s a pretty small world.  If you don’t want people harassing your connections, reconsider who you accept as a connection or friend.  I have trust and faith in my contacts and will continue to do so until they prove me wrong—which is unlikely to happen.  And at the end of the day, if you’re concerned someone is going to steal your clients, your issues are bigger than them seeing who you know. 

  • Shameless Self-Promoters

These are the ones who continuously post where they’ve been, who they work with, tell you how great they are and that you really should use their service or product.  Obviously, it would be a good lesson to learn that 3rd party endorsements are held in higher regard than self-promotion.  If I’m connected already, I have confidence in you, so don’t need to be reminded.  Also, it has been our experience that folks who offer information of value get attention.  These are the postings I click through to read.

  • Endless Posters

Postings should be about quality over quantity.  Look at your network activity on LinkedIn, news feed on Facebook, or tweets on Twitter.  Scroll down and see how many updates you have from the same person.  LinkedIn and Facebook collapse updates from the same people that occur in quick succession, but others throughout the day can take up a lot of space.  The end result is that I sometimes miss important postings from sources about which I really care.  I don’t want to “hide” updates from the over-zealous posters, but wish that they could limit themselves to 2-3 times a day to allow space for others.  At the risk of offending some folks, I don’t need to know everything you’ve done throughout the day.

  • Takers

“Tis better to give than to receive” is a saying that is lost on some folks.  A few people connected with me when they were looking for a job and wanted to see if anyone in my network might be helpful to them.  Fine.  After that though, I don’t really hear from these people unless they want or need something from me.  These are takers.  Without stereotyping, recruiters can be guilty of this as well.

Do you have anything to add to the Pet Peeve Hall of Shame?

5 Tips for Using LinkedIn to Sell

April 20, 2010
About a month ago, Opus Partners was interviewed by friend and colleague, Nigel Edelshain, for a blog on effectively using LinkedIn as a sales tool.  Below is the resulting article that appeared on Monday, March 22. 

Sales Prospecting: 5 Tips for Using LinedIn to Sell by Nigel Edelshain, Sales 2.0

 
I went to speak to my friend and New York master sales trainer, David Leaver of Opus Partners, on this one. (You may have noticed a trend in my last two blogs posts that I am interviewing other experts. This is because I don’t know everything).

David has been at this sales training game for a while and as such is not easily impressed by gimmicks or gadgets that are “all flash and no cash.” So it’s notable that David has taken to LinkedIn like the proverbial mallard. That should tell all you Sales 2.0 doubters that there’s something here – my opinion.

Nigel: David what are the primary ways you use LinkedIn to sell?

David: I have a discipline each day to go into LinkedIn and spend 15-30 minutes there – no more. That’s important as social networking platforms and social media in general can suck you in and burn up all your selling time.

During my 15-30 minutes on LinkedIn each day I address the following things in order:

  1. My LinkedIn Inbox
  2. New Connections my 1st degree contacts have made
  3. New Recommendations my 1st degree contacts have given to people
  4. Questions I might be able to answer in the groups I belong to
  5. Who viewed my profile

Nigel: OK that’s very structured. Can we go through each one?

David: sure. So the first one is looking at my LinkedIn Inbox. This is pretty obvious but a good place to start. I check if there are any direct requests in there for my help, new contacts etc. Very basic LinkedIn usage.

The second thing I do is not obvious to most people. I check what new connections my new connections have today. This comes up on your LinkedIn home page if you have your LinkedIn settings set to display this (the default setting will show this).
 
The reason I look at this is that when one of the people I know makes a new connection with someone their relationship is quite active. It’s a great time for me to request an introduction to that new person too. It’s most likely my direct connection and the new 2nd degree connection have been talking or emailing and they feel a certain level of connectivity at this time. Because of this it’s more likely than normal that my request to connect will be accepted.

Nigel: OK that’s not something I’d though of. What about new recommendations? What’s that about?

David
: Nigel it’s a similar principle. When one of my direct (1st degree connections) gives a recommendation to someone – or someone gives a recommendation to them – it signals to me that their relationship is strong. Hence it gives me a good clue that I can ask for an introduction to that person I don’t yet know. A recommendation is usually only given when people know each other well.

Nigel: Right, got it. Not obvious stuff from just looking at LinkedIn. And item #4 groups. What do you do there?

David
: I belong to several LinkedIn groups that are sales-related and also to groups that my customers/prospects belong to. What I do is look for questions that I can answer in those groups. I make sure I only answer questions when I can really add value. It’s a great way to start a conversation. Of course, if the person I’m talking to is a potential client or partner I will try to move the conversation offline so that it becomes “real.” As you know I believe real conversations happen offline on the phone or in-person. Social media platforms like LinkedIn are just good tools for STARTING a relationship.

Nigel: Yup, agree that real relationships get formed offline. And the last one – looking at who viewed your profile?

David: I look at who viewed my profile recently (you need to be on the paid LinkedIn to do this, so it will cost you $24.95 a month). I don’t do this very often but sometimes when I see someone whose profile looks interesting to me I will email them through LinkedIn and say “I see you looked at my profile. Is there anything I can help you with?”

Nigel: OK got it. Some great stuff. I knew about some of those techniques but many of them I would not have though of. Super. Thanks David!

For more from Nigel and Sales 2.0, click here: http://bit.ly/awUXvF

Taking a Break: Social Media and Business Growth

December 14, 2009

I recently took a break from blogging, twittering, etc., partly out of choice, partly because of other business needs.

Did it have an impact on my business growth?  Hard to say.  I can say this:  it forced me to evaluate how much and where I focus my time and energy.

I also did something radical—I talked to people.  I picked up the telephone. 

My enthusiasm for social media as a tool for business growth remains strong.  What I’ve noticed though, is that for all the messages and postings that come my way, I’m interested in less than ½ of them.  They’re neither people in whom I take great interest (or they haven’t made themselves interesting) nor are they business colleagues offering valuable insights or advice.

I’ve also observed that the folks who are  posting rampantly have one or all of the following characteristics:

  • Staff and/or coaches to help them,
  • Lots of time, and/or
  • Their business IS social media.

That leaves the rest of us.  I continue to be a huge proponent of social media, and perhaps I should follow my own advice.  (This is a confession a bit like the one from the cobbler whose kids don’t have shoes.)  I was reminded that I need to follow my own recommended philosophy for keeping timely and engaged with others through multiple mediums. 

For my sales purposes, I need tools that allow me to focus on growing my business and that of my clients as the top priority. Social media should be one of many in the mix.

At the risk of offending my social media fanatical friends, here’s my realistic schedule for being a “player” in social media without stressing too much.  Consider this a holiday present:

Tactic Frequency Content
  1. Video/podcast

 

1 x month Owner, customers addressing a timely topic, offering advice, sharing industry insights
  1. Blog

 

1x week Insights, shared content, and be sure to post to other social media
  1. Facebook
3x week Entertaining insights, promotions, fan bonuses, partner promotions
  1. LinkedIn
3x week Business insights, shared content, partner recommendations
  1. Twitter
1x day Shared content, links to your blog, fan page, retweets, replies

For me and my business, social media is not just about marketing—it’s about increasing your sales and growing your business.  So consider this incremental awareness-building plan, and see what the New Year brings!

Doing More With Less: A 6-Step Plan for Sales Effectiveness

November 4, 2009

I like to revisit ideas that I’ve addressed in the past to see how well they resonate today.  Business effectiveness and managing resources in what continues to be a tough economic environment jumped out as particularly timely. 

At year’s end, companies usually halt hiring, but, of course, business must go on.  Wise management of resources—financial and personnel—is critical to business growth.

Here are 6 steps to help you develop your growth plans for the year ahead:

1.  Assess and evaluate your written sales and marketing plans to see what strategies and tactics brought the most success and how these can be leveraged in the future.  Be sure to have this outlined on paper and revisit often.

2.  Reevaluate priorities to determine what has worked and is still working.   Where do you need to redirect and refocus in the most profitable ways going forward?

3.  Maximize your sales and marketing spending

  • You need visibility to grow, so keep your budgets robust, while also improving efficiencies.
  • Use social networking as a low-cost way to stay in touch with key contacts and maintain your industry presence.
  •  Tap into LinkedIn and Facebook. We used LinkedIn to accelerate the sales process for two new clients. (Opus Partners is featured in an article in December 2008’s New York Enterprise Report http://nyreport.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=Page.viewPage&pageId=288)
  • Commit one half-hour daily to these activities. They are easy ways to touch customers, prospects and clients, and they help your company stay top-of-mind.

4.   Assess your team to see if you have the right people in the right positions.  Consider adjustments to maximize employee effectiveness.  Take a look at underperformers to determine if you can improve their performance.  Remember, in a tight economy, the pool of qualified job seekers is greater.

5.  Listen to your clients

  • What are your clients’ concerns and how can you better tailor your solution to meet new customer needs?
  • How else can you add value?  Consider opportunities to give referrals and make connections to possible prospects. Your clients will remember these actions long after the current crisis ends.

 6.  Manage your sales pipeline.  To make the most of your resources, it’s important to qualify prospects and focus on those most likely to value your services and products. Quickly disengage from those that do not meet your prospect profile.

These are just a few pointers to consider as you prepare for 2010—less than 2 months away.  Cheers!

Social Media for Business Growth: What is Your Plan?

October 26, 2009

This past week, we conducted three presentations for a client on the use of social media to grow business.  Being big proponents of online and offline means to increase sales and revenue, we found ourselves preaching messages that recur every time the topic of new media arises. 

You’re on LinkedIn, have friends on Facebook, hundreds of followers on Twitter, post videos on YouTube.  You participate in numerous networking groups, have a well-done website, blog regularly, email your customers.  This all sounds wonderful, but have you asked yourself:

What are my business objectives?

  • How does social media fit in with my current online and offline marketing and sales initiatives?
  • What do I hope to achieve? 
  • How and with what frequency will I communicate with my contacts?
  • How does this help me develop a deeper relationship with customers and prospects?   

It is easy to get caught up in the hoopla of networking and social media, or alternatively be entirely skeptical of the merits of all this hard work.

Somewhere in between is the practical reality of what social media CAN do for your business.  For people who know me, they’ve heard this before and I can almost hear them laughing when I say it again:  The key to successfully networking and using social media effectively is to have a written plan that outlines your goals, objectives, action items, timetable and metrics to measure what is working .

At the end of the day, the result you want to see is “good growth” for your business.  Experts in social media seem to be everywhere, but what you need to do is gauge what is going to increase the revenue for your company.  Which tools are best?  Social media is a tool, not a strategy.  It is a group of tactics that must always align with business objectives in order to be effective.

A Friend Indeed: The Changing Social Contract

October 20, 2009

Recently, a good friend and professional for whom I have high regard, George Tomko, wrote a compelling blog entitled “A Friend in Need, is a Friend Indeed” (http://www.ciorant.net/?p=226).  In it he discussed the changing nature of the work environment and what this meant for relationships—between companies and employees and within professional circles.  Especially as more people continue to be downsized (is that the current term being used?), the depth of connections takes on a bigger role. 

The reality is that the social contract between employee and employer has been shifting for years.  Whether we like it or not, it isn’t going to go back to the good ‘ole days.  People hoping to secure a job for a longer term need to improve skill sets, be visible, and really add value to their organization.  The rise of corporate mediocrity is less able to be the case these days.

In the words of Martha Stewart, “This is a good thing.”  Now the search for and pool of talent extends well beyond the traditional corporate environment, and includes people who are constantly looking for ways to improve themselves, increase efficiencies at the companies they work for or clients they serve.  They will be the real winners.  Performance measurements include more than being seen at the office. The shape of employment has forever been altered.

That means that all professionals need to be connected—in a genuine way.  I like to say that it needs to be without an agenda. In other words, do it because you know these “friends,” “connections,” and “followers” are truly people who trust you and who you trust in return, and for whom you would be willing to extend yourself.  Knowing who these people are is particularly important, regardless of whether you are experiencing trying times or not.  The quality of your network matters more now than ever before.  Keith Ferrazzi’s book “Who’s Got Your Back” offers a wonderful take on this.

In an age of transparency, it is so obvious when someone builds up their network quickly, at an almost feverish pace, that they are friending you because they want something.  While I am more than willing to help those I respect and trust, I admit to a greater willingness to go out of my way for those people who connected with me because of a mutual desire to remain in contact.  The relationships tend to be deeper, based not on quid pro quo or desperation, but on a desire to assist and offer sound advice whenever, wherever and however it is needed.  A true friend indeed.